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In recent years, long-term survival rates after diagnosis of breast cancer have been rising steadily. In the United States, it’s been estimated that approximately 2.5 million people are survivors of breast cancer. This number is expected to rise by 31%, bringing it up to 3.4 million.
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This brings about a new challenge for physicians and patients: how to maintain health beyond breast cancer diagnosis? Survivors of breast cancer must not only deal with the side effects of cancer treatments (heart disease, osteoporosis) but also the pre-existing risk factors for the cancer itself (BMI, sedentary lifestyle).
A recent review published in The Pemanente Journal found that a plant-based diet may prove most effective for overall health of breast cancer survivors. Researchers examined long-term lifestyle choices and their effect on heart disease, bone health and body weight, all risk factors that affect survivorship. A whole food, plant-based diet, along with physical activity and stress reduction, showed the most promise in long-term survival of breast cancer.
Maintaining a healthy weight is key in preventing many chronic diseases, including breast cancer. In a review of over 5,000 studies, researchers found that women with breast cancer who are overweight or gain weight after diagnosis are more likely to have a recurrence of cancer or die.
Following a whole food, plant-based diet is one way to promote weight loss and maintain a healthy BMI because these foods are naturally low in calories, making it possible to lose weight without the need to count calories or practice portion control.
Along with the benefits of weight loss, a whole food, plant based diet ranks extremely high in nutrient density. Foods like whole gluten free grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables have more vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber than animal-based foods.
Perhaps the most powerful foods to fight breast cancer are fruits and vegetables. A recent review of studies showed that high intake of fruits and vegetables was associated with a lower risk of breast cancer. Another study found that women who eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day have a survival advantage over women who do not.
A raw food diet is a form of plant-based eating that is extremely high in fresh fruits and vegetables along with nuts, seeds and some gluten free grains. Raw food advocates such as myself believe that eating food at it’s most natural, raw state, increases the nutritional benefit, providing abundant vitamins, minerals, enzymes and phytochemicals, helping ease inflammation in the body and creating homeostasis naturally.